by Kendall Dennis, Coordinated Program student
Who doesn’t love chocolate? Well, if that’s you, then you might not find this article too interesting. If you’re somebody who does love chocolate (your taste buds chose correctly), then you’ll probably want to keep reading.
Chocolate, specifically dark chocolate, has long been in the media touting all sorts of health benefits. There’s excitement when research provides reasons to continue eating our favorite confectionery. Well, a recently published study may give us even more of a reason to eat dark chocolate: our mood.
A new study examining the effects of dark chocolate on mood found that dark chocolate can help reduce negative emotions by changing the composition of bacterial species in the intestines. The study was conducted in Seoul, South Korea and included 48 participants. Of the 48 participants, 18 participants received chocolate with 85% cocoa, 16 participants received chocolate with 70% cocoa, and 14 participants received no chocolate at all. Study participants consumed chocolate three times per day for three weeks. The participants who ate dark chocolate with 85% cocoa content had reduced negative mood states compared to the other groups.
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which come from the fruit of the cacao tree. Chocolate has been enjoyed by people for thousands of years, dating back to the Mayan and Aztec civilizations. The compounds in cocoa that are associated with mood effects are referred to as polyphenols. Polyphenols are found in some foods and have antioxidant properties, meaning they help to keep cells healthy and functioning properly. Polyphenols have been illustrated in other studies to reduce stress and anxiety. In the present study, participants who consumed chocolate with 85% cocoa content ate an estimated 400 mg polyphenols per day throughout the course of the study and those in the group consuming 70% cocoa chocolate ate 250 mg of polyphenols per day. The difference in polyphenol content is key to understanding the mood effects provided by 85% cocoa chocolate.
You’ve likely seen lots of headlines with something related to the microbiome in recent years. The term microbiome describes the types of microorganisms, such as bacteria, and their genes that are present in and on our bodies. The gut microbiome specifically refers to microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract. Research related to the microbiome is an emerging field with a great deal of interest. Within the last several years, research has proven there is a connection between the gut microbiome and the brain, a phenomenon called the gut-brain axis. Through the gut-brain axis, the microbiome is able to alter mood.
Consuming a varied diet with prebiotics and probiotics can help with maintaining a diverse microbiome, which promotes overall health and positive emotional states. Prebiotics are the parts of food which feed the healthy bacteria in our gut, and probiotics are the beneficial bacteria. The present study has shown that dark chocolate has prebiotic effects and is able to therefore change the diversity and quantity of species in the gut, which can ultimately influence mood. Further, specific bacteria within the gut microbiome could be responsible for how polyphenols are broken down in the body and transformed into compounds that have mood boosting effects. Together these findings reveal the importance in how the bacteria in our gut are connected to our mood and well-being, and how these bacteria can be changed by the food we eat. I’d say it’s time to stock up on the dark chocolate!